Defensive sets and film observations: Week 3 vs. Browns
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Welcome to the first installment of 'Defensive sets and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Cleveland Browns.
Every Wednesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings defense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Click here for the offensive analysis and breakdown from Vikings-Browns.
The Vikings defense played two very different halfs of football in the loss to the Browns on Sunday. After allowing 24 points and 252 yards in the first 24 minutes, the Vikings sacked third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer three times and held his Browns to 157 yards and seven points in the second half.
However, for the second week in a row, the only seven points allowed in the final half ended up as the dagger. Two game-ending drives against the Browns and Chicago Bears, in which the defense has allowed touchdowns with :55 and :10 seconds left on the clock, respecitvely, are one of many reasons the Vikings are 0-3 instead of 2-1.
The Vikings allowed more than 400 yards of offense for the second time this year, setting their average at 429 yards per game (29th in NFL). They allowed 31 points to the Browns, keeping their average at 32 points per game (30th).
Base: 14/31 = 45%
Nickel: 17/31 = 55%
Yardage allowed: 252
Base: 11/41 = 27%
Nickel: 30/41 = 73%
Yardage allowed: 157
Base: 25 of 72 plays [35%]
Nickel: 47 of 72 plays [65%]
-The Browns certainly saw what previous teams' tight ends have done to the Vikings' back seven in the redzone. Tight end Jordan Cameron finished with six catches, three going for touchdowns, including the game-winner with :55 seconds left over safety Harrison Smith. On the Browns' final offensive play, the Vikings called for Smith to cover Cameron man-to-man, but the former basketball player with a three-inch advantage easily grabbed Hoyer's lob over Smith on 3rd-and-goal.
-Hoyer gifted the Vikings with two of his three interceptions, which were terrible throws into coverage. However, rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd showed major promise on Sunday, disrupting multiple plays in the backfield and hitting Hoyer's arm on his third interception, which sailed into the air and in the arms of linebacker Erin Henderson. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams also had a key pass deflection on the Browns' only failed attempt on 4th down, batting Hoyer's pass to stall the Browns at midfield in the third quarter. Linebacker Chad Greenway read Hoyer's eyes and grabbed an interception as Hoyer locked onto Cameron just eight yards downfield on a hook route in the third quarter. Greenway slid near the right hash where Cameron's route took him and made the easy interception. Smith grabbed his second interception of the season when he jumped receiver Josh Gordon's route just before halftime. The opportunistic nature of this defense is promising, considering they had just 22 takeaways all last season and have 10 already through three games. But if the offense can't convert those turnovers into points, it'll be a long season. For the second straight game, the Vikings produced four turnovers. But the offense came away with 10 points from the takeaways.
-Every week, we'll breakdown a key sequence in the game that had a hand in deciding the outcome. Clearly, we'll take a look at the Browns' final 11-play, 55-yard drive and the go-ahead score from Hoyer to Cameron.
Punter Jeff Locke was backed up against his own goal line and booted just a 35-yard punt to set the Browns up on their own 45-yard line with more than three minutes left and the 27-24 lead. Time wasn't a factor, but the short field limited the defense's margin for error.
At this point, Hoyer had completed his share of plays over the Vikings, but they had sacked him three times on the previous three drives. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams dialed up the pressure on the last drive. He brought pressure on 20 of Hoyer's 57 dropbacks [35%] in the game, significantly more than the two previous contests. On the final drive, he blitzed extra defenders five of the 11 plays, including the touchdown pass. Greenway and safety Andrew Sendejo blitzed as Smith was left alone in man coverage on Cameron. The pressure worked, as defensive end Jared Allen was in Hoyer's face when he threw, but the release was just in time and the placement was just right for Cameron to get the touchdown.
Hoyer had five incompletions on the final drive, but completed two gains of 11 yards and had 10- and 13-yard conversions to setup the seven-yard score. The Vikings stacked one safety in the box multiple times, often rolling into cover 3 to prevent the big play, but instead allowed underneath throws that moved the chains. Hoyer completed a 13-yard pass to Cameron on 2nd-and-10 in the redzone that was on a similar play as Greenway's interception. However, Hoyer didn't stare down his receiver this time and Cameron settled in the soft part of the Vikings' zone for the easy completion. Cornerback Marcus Sherels, filling in for injured cornerback Chris Cook, played seven yards off Gordon, who caught a 10-yard slant route set up by receiver Davone Bess' interference on his corner route. The Vikings held the Browns to 3rd-and-goal on the final play, but perhaps put a little too much trust into Smith, as he covered the 6-foot-5-inch Cameron by himself in the endzone.
- The Vikings secondary has given up nine passing touchdowns through the first three games, one to Browns' punter Spencer Lanning and three going to Hoyer, who got his first career win as a starter under his belt after dropping back 57 times against the Vikings. Hoyer completed 30 passes for 321 yards, adding three picks. Injuries to cornerbacks Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson, as well as safety Jamarca Sanford, thinned the late-game options, but Sherels and Sendejo stepped in and played well. Jefferson was torched on the Browns' first touchdown, a 47-yard bomb to Gordon. Hoyer pump-faked on a stop-and-go route by Gordon and froze Jefferson as he let the receiver go untouched into the endzone. Sendejo missed a tackle on an 11-yard catch-and-run by Browns' fullback Chris Ogbonnaya on the final drive.
- Linebacker Desmond Bishop (12) stepped in and split snaps with base linebacker Marvin Mitchell (13) and played exceptionally well. Bishop registered three tackles, two for a loss, in his limited play -- including a six-yard loss by Browns' running back Willis McGahee after Bishop spun off the fullback and stuffed him in the backfield along with Floyd. Bishop provides an upgrade over Mitchell, who is just as capable in pass protection, but not so much in the run game, where he missed at least one tackle on Sunday.
Game ball: Marcus Sherels. Sherels stepped in for the injured Cook and unable Jefferson [or injured after giving up a 47-yard touchdown], and led the team with eight tackles after being targeted 18 times in the pass game. Sherels had eight solo tackles, two pass deflections and a fumble recovery off of a muffed punt return. Hoyer targeted the 5-foot-10 Sherels with a number of receivers, most often with the 6-foot-3 Gordon, who caught just four of the eight passes thrown his way for 19 yards while being guarded by Sherels. In total, Sherels surrendered just 50 yards on nine completions, showcasing a superb tackling ability nearly every time the ball came his way. The Vikings should move cornerback Josh Robinson back to the outside where he's more comfortable and move the sure-tackling Sherels into the slot while Cook is out.
Goat(s): The wounded in the secondary. Sanford, Cook and Jefferson all had no impact or a subpar effort before going down with an injury on Sunday. Cook (groin) played just three snaps before taking his pads off. Cook, in his fourth year, has not started more than 10 games in a season and even though he started Sunday, he's already missed a game in 2013. Jefferson, as aforementioned, gave up the 47-yard touchdown early in the game and was pulled with an apparently ankle injury as Sherels took his place. Sanford missed multiple tackles in the first half and allowed the 19-yard touchdown reception to Cameron before giving up his reps to Sendejo after Sanford's apparent leg injury. Cook, Sanford and Jefferson were all held out of Wednesday's practice.